After his awakening at Bodh Gayā, the Buddha walks to Isipatana, north of Bārāṇasī, where he finds his five former companions and delivers his first teaching, Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta (Turning the dharma wheel), on the full moon of Āsāḷha (July). Here he introduces the principle of the middle way (majjhima paṭipadā), the dynamic centre between extremes, or the place of no fixed position.
We explore the role of the body in our meditation practice, using the Buddha’s practice of kāyagatā sati (mindfulness immersed in body) as our guide. We forget we are bodies, fooled by our mind’s ability to create realities that are separate from the bodies we are. We explore the practice of mindfulness immersed in body using the Buddha’s instructions to Mahā Kassapa as our guide: “You should train yourself in this way: “I will not abandon mindfulness immersed in body associated with joy.”
Tonight we explore the fourth satipaṭṭhāna, that of tracking dharma or dharmas (dhammānupassanā). Tracking dharma (singular) involves learning the conceptual framework that gives meaning to the experiences we undergo. We learn to read our experience. When experience means something, then it can transform our life. Tracking the dharmas (plural) entails learning to perceive our experienced world as no more than a flow of phenomena, that arise and cease dependent on conditions. This represents the maturity of insight into not-self (anattā).
We survey the first three of the four satipaṭṭhānas, here translated as “foundations of mindfulness” or “domains of mindfulness” – the places where we station our mindfulness. These are body (kāya), feeling (vedanā) and heart/mind (citta). We see these domains represent a linear progression from less to greater ethical sensitivity; and we also see how feeling holds the practice together.
We continue our exploration of how we can structure attention by practising indriya saṃvāra, or sense restraint. This practice represents a radical relaxation in which we rest our awareness and simply receive sense data without doing anything, without getting entangled in the data. This practice makes us sensitive to how difficult it is to stop “doing.”
This evening we unpack the sentence in which the Buddha presents the maturity of the practice: “And she lives independently, not clinging to anything in the world.” What does it mean to “live independently?” And where does clinging (upādāna) fit into this?
We look at the first three sentences of the chorus of Satipaṭṭhāna Sutta, where the Buddha explains the arising of insight (vipassanā). We examine “tracking body as body internally and externally,” where the assumed boundary between self and other begins to dissolve. Then we look at how the practitioner opens into the perception of impermanence – “tracking the nature of arising and ceasing as body.” Finally, we examine the entry into emptiness, where the practitioner is mindful that “body is,” for understanding (ñāṇa) and continuous mindfulness (paṭisati).
Here we learn to structure our attention more loosely, to enable us to see the object of awareness within the broader context of our attentional field. When we hold an object too closely we may miss the context within which it is held, including the one who is attending to it. When we learn to hold the object more loosely, we can appreciate the context within which it is held, and understanding (sampajañña, paññā) emerges within this context.
Tonight we return to the fundamental meaning of sati as indicating memory, and look at the relationship of memory to wisdom. Our connection with the past allows us to learn from the patterns of experience as they flow over time. Mindfulness allows access to an experienced present that includes everything we have learned through the course of our lives.
The Buddha has a number of terms that express intention, choice, decision, determination, resolution. Here we look at cetanā, usually translated as “intention,” but perhaps better translated as “choice.” We examine the role of our choices, both habitual and conscious, in our practice and how we might learn to become sensitive to their workings.